What Is InBloom and Why Is It Collecting Data on School Children?
In Common Core and other federal education matters, no name stirs up more controversy than inBloom, the 2013 nonprofit rebranded
from predecessor Smart Learning Collaboration (SLC).
Originally launched with nine states on board, inBloom has been accused of everything from collecting to tracking to selling data on the nation's K-12 kids, resulting in a handful of those states dropping out. However, inBloom wants to engage its critics and make an effort to challenge the assertions made about their role in the student data controversy.
What is inBloom? Pumped up by $100 million in start-up money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, it states the following concerning its purpose:
is to provide a valuable resource to teachers, students and families,
to improve education. We solve a common technology issue facing school
districts today: the inability of electronic instructional tools used in
classrooms to work in coordination with (or “talk to”) one another.
The inBloom official website also claims that through technology, they are here to help
tailor learning, inform parents, save time and money, and enhance data privacy and security; because "to succeed in today’s global economy,
students need learning experiences that meet their individual needs,
engage them deeply, and let them learn at their own pace." It goes
on to say:
This requires teachers to have an up-to-date picture of a
student’s progress; an understanding of where he or she needs extra
attention; and access to materials that will help progress their
students’ learning. inBloom is a nonprofit organization helping to make
this possible by providing efficient and cost-effective means for school
districts to give teachers the information and tools necessary to
strengthen their connection with each student.
Chief Product Officer and a Gates Foundation alumnus responsible
for the vision, strategy, design, and development of all products and
services at inBloom, spoke with Breitbart News and described their
product as a "piece of infrastructure," likening it to a highway that
connects its customers who are public school districts.
"The way we achieve that mission is by offering a very technical backend
service," said Bates. She also said the issue is complicated by nature
and difficult to explain, adding that she understands how this might be
confusing to the public. Bates said that "words like 'tracking' and
'data-mining' mischaracterize what inBloom does."
"We are absolutely not data-mining," added Garrett Suhm,
inBloom's Chief Technology Officer. He admitted, "We've done a terrible
PR job in explaining what we do and in correcting the misperception, [but] we are absolutely not creating a national data-base."
Correcting what inBloom claims are misconceptions about the company becomes more
difficult when the inBloom privacy and security policy introduction on
the company's official website contains the very buzz words that fuel the privacy rights firestorm: "store" and "share."
No one is really sure what information is being collected, either. Missouri
Education Watchdog's Gretchen Logue, a critic of inBloom, pointed out
that the "data mining is not just centered on educational information."
This educational reform also requires personal information
on students and their families... and with the expansion of FERPA
(Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) allowing information to flow
freely, this information will be supplied to research firms, contractors, and other interested parties.
Bates insisted to Breitbart News that inBloom's intention is to provide the
best options for kids, families, and teachers. This is what she described as: "...online practice tools or online classroom level kind of quiz
tools." Bates added, "They are exactly the kind of experiences you want
for kids and teachers and families to have together." Before what she
called "the 'inBloom solution,'" a teacher was "logging into three, four,
five different websites which took prep and student time away,
turning the teacher into a data administrator instead of creating great
learning opportunities with students."
noted that what they do is technical in nature, and yes, data is being
collected: data on students, their families, and teachers. Bates then
dismissed any issue with such data collection by saying, "School
districts have been doing so since the beginning of the Internet."
pushback against inBloom may well come from paragraph one of the
company's privacy and security policy, again from the company's official
website, which identifies
that the "service also helps State Educational Agencies in evaluating
federal—and state—supported education programs." Words like "state" and "federal" raise eyebrows when joined with data on children.
In 2013, the Heartland Institute's Joy Pullman, another critic of inBloom, reported
more troubling information. She wrote, "The U.S. Department of
Education is funding and mandating databases that could expand each
kid's academic records into a comprehensive personal record." This would include, she continued, "health care history, disciplinary record, family income range, family
voting status and religious affiliation." She then added, "Under agreements
every state signed to get 2009 stimulus funds, they must share students'
academic data with the federal government." Pullman sourced her data
to a 2012 Pioneer Institute report and the National Center for
Educational Statistics (NCES).
Still, inBloom's Suhm insisted, "We have nothing to hide." He added, "Everything we do is open online for review because we are open-source." The term "open source" means publicly accessible. Suhm invited anyone to visit the website's FAQ library
of downloadable documentation. He hopes that this will help allay the
public's fears. He even shared that, as a parent, he, too, has the same
privacy concerns, and he emphasized that the public also should be concerned
by the "unbelievable amounts of personal data" kids give away freely
online on sites like Instagram, Reddit, and Pinterest.
said, "inBloom is not using any data to market student
information to third party vendors." He added, "inBloom provides the
super-information highway to allow different systems to communicate so
that schools can simplify their systems. We implemented the standard."
also touched on this issue while speaking with Breitbart News and said
she "wanted to make sure it was clear to the public" that local school
districts are the ones that "legally control everything" from the
purchase of a product to the tracked fields. She said that parents
need to take these concerns to their local school districts. She also asserted that inBloom isn't doing anything wrong. They provide a
service to their school district customers.
Yet the misperceptions continue for a variety of reasons, including the inBloom tracking fields, which extend far beyond students' grades. Pullman pointed out in
her article that "no one knows what personal data the Common Core tests will
collect, because those tests have yet to be written and released."
She also wrote, "But this information mother-lode has to come from
somewhere. Since the tests are being written by private organizations,
although entirely funded so far by the federal government, no one can do
a public records request to find out."
This makes it more challenging for inBloom to clear its name, although Suhm
noted, "We just operate the servers. We can't see or access the
(encrypted) data unless we have special access granted by the
customer." He described servers where coded software speak to each
other and in which inBloom "segregates" all personally identifiable
data. Bates told Breitbart News that only in a "tech support emergency," upon the customer's request, would data ever be seen by inBloom.
She claimed they take their responsibilities as software and privacy
Still, this isn't helping sway public opinion—nor are claims
made by the Washington, D.C.-based national Software and Information
Industry Association that students' privacy is well-protected by federal
law and by a superior level of encryption technology.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this disconnect between inBloom and the general public is best explained by Push Back author, B.K. Eakman. In an interview with Breitbart News, Eakman stated,
"inBloom operates from a world viewpoint put out in the mainstream
media that data collection is okay." She also said she feels the
public's fears are not allayed because people wonder why potentially
massively invasive personal information is being collected at all. As
Eakman posited, "If you like your privacy, you can't keep it." And for
this very reason, the contentious data collection debate will likely